Living In: Asbury Park, N.J.: A Seaside Community Reborn

Carolyn Curtin moved to Asbury Park in 2002 and fell in love with a late Victorian house with a falling-down porch and heaven knows what other problems. She knew nothing about construction, but borrowed a level from a crew rehabbing a building across the street to check it out.

“I walked all three stories and threw down the level; everything was spot on,” she said. She bought the house at auction for $209,000 and began fixing it up. Then she fell in love with her plumber.







Asbury Park



Asbury Park

Convention Hall

Stephen Crane House

Asbury Ave.

Asbury Park Casino

Asbury Park


















Asbury Park

1/2 mile

By The New York Times

Today, Ms. Curtin, 55, has parlayed both romances into a business called Salvage Angel by the Sea. In a former Canada Dry warehouse on the west side of the city, she and her partner, Brett Holloway, collect the architectural fragments of Asbury Park’s upheaval for others to repurpose.

“I couldn’t bear to see everything clear-cut and knocked down and thrown into the heap,” she said.

Ms. Curtin is one of the risk-takers who moved to this historic oceanfront resort when it was a capital of crime, drugs and disappointment. Many came, as she did, for the music and art scene that thrived amid the erosion, with small businesses giving the community its character as a culturally rich outlier on the Jersey Shore.

Now that large-scale development has finally taken off after a few false starts, the streets are safer (crime dropped by 13 percent last year) and Asbury Park is attracting more affluent weekend and full-time residents. Stalwarts like Ms. Curtin are poised both to profit from and mourn the transformation.

On the one hand, median home values have risen 42 percent in the last five years. Instead of eyesores, visitors see retrofitted historic buildings like the three-year-old Asbury Hotel, built in a former Salvation Army boardinghouse, and new construction like Asbury Ocean Club, a luxury condominium-and-hotel complex slated to open this summer. The once-desolate boardwalk and shabby downtown have become vibrant retail corridors.

Money magazine ranked Asbury Park’s beach the second best in the country, but many residents cannot afford to use it when lifeguards are on duty. (Seasonal passes are $70 for adults and $20 for teens between 13 and 17; children 12 and under are free.) CreditJames Estrin/The New York Times

On the other hand, the rising cost of rent, goods and services is putting a squeeze on the population of 16,000 — 30 percent of whom are living below the poverty line — and, some say, threatening the quirky energy that makes Asbury Park unique.

“What you’re seeing now is revitalization, but also gentrification,” said Amy Quinn, Asbury Park’s deputy mayor. Referring to the demographics of the people who arrived a decade ago or more, she said, “We’re constantly figuring out how to make sure the black, gay, artist and small-business community who came here before this revitalization can remain here.”

One strategy is to push for upward of 20 percent affordable housing in new developments, including those near the ocean, Ms. Quinn said. (A 2002 plan approved by a former city administration called for 3,200 residential units on the waterfront, but made no stipulations for affordability.)

The City Council has also written an ordinance that lets only primary homeowners rent out rooms over short periods. The aim is to prevent outside investors from buying properties to run as seasonal lodgings, when they could be occupied by residents supporting the economy year-round.

In a city with an unemployment rate of 5.7 percent, Ms. Quinn and her colleagues urge new businesses to train and hire locally. She commended iStar, Asbury Park’s leading developer, for doing “work force development on steroids,” but questioned whether a property like the developer’s Asbury Ocean Club, with units listed for as much as $6 million, is the right fit for the community.


Cookman Avenue, downtown Asbury Park’s main drag, is lined with shops and restaurants, including Toast City Diner.CreditJames Estrin/The New York Times

Asked about the toll of gentrification on underprivileged residents, iStar’s chairman, Jay Sugarman, said the company was creating opportunities where few previously existed. “The tax revenues that are being created are lifting all boats,” he said. “We’re building an economic base that allows the community to have services and support for all members.”

Not all of iStar’s properties are high-end, he added, pointing to Asbury Lanes, a vintage bowling alley that was reborn two years ago with a new concert stage and a diner.

Kris Moran, a Brooklyn-based film set decorator, lived in Asbury Park for several years in her youth and visits regularly. She and her family stay in a house she bought for a little less than $100,000 in 1997, four doors from her mother. She recalled the days when she had the beach to herself, but had to walk half a mile to find food. Now her 8-year-old son rakes in money at his lemonade stand on the boardwalk, and he has lots of competition from other vendors.

“In the ’80s and ’90s, when a restaurant opened, that would be a big deal,” she said.

Asbury Park is a city of 1.6 square miles, in Monmouth County, on New Jersey’s central coast. Built as a resort in the late 1800s, it has frilly, peaked Victorian architecture, three small lakes and a boardwalk nearly a mile long.


705 SUNSET AVENUE | A seven-bedroom, two-bathroom house built in 1908 on 0.17 acres, across from Sunset Park in northeast Asbury Park, listed for $1.15 million. 732-890-0598CreditJames Estrin/The New York Times

The city is split into quadrants divided by north-south Memorial Drive (or the railroad tracks alongside it) and east-west Asbury Avenue. The northeast quadrant has the waterfront and much of the desirable housing, including vintage, single-family houses (many made whole after being subdivided into rentals), condo developments and townhouses like Vive, a six-year-old iStar project with 28 units that started at $390,000 and now sell for more than $1 million.

In this quadrant, you’ll find the 1920s Convention Hall and Paramount Theatre with its connecting arcade; the 45-year-old Stone Pony music club that stoked the careers of Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi; the spiffed-up Wonder Bar, emblazoned with the face of Tillie, a grinning fun-house figure that is effectively the city’s logo; and the vacant Beaux-Arts Casino Arena and Carousel House, which attract artists, skateboarders and wedding parties seeking photo ops.

Southeast is the main business district, concentrated along Cookman Avenue. Among the pioneers of the latest commercial wave are the Showroom Cinema, an art-film house; Words!, an independent bookstore; and Hot Sand, a glassblowing studio. Condos have been developed above many ground-level retail spaces.


510 MONROE AVENUE, UNIT 102 | A two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo in a 2007 building in southeast Asbury Park, listed for $499,900, with a $537 monthly association fee. 732-682-0064CreditJames Estrin/The New York Times

The west side is dominated by the black and Latino communities that make up 47 percent and 30 percent of Asbury Park’s population, according to 2017 American Community Survey data. In 1970, riots erupted there in response to racial discrimination, hastening the city’s tailspin. Now multifamily buildings are attracting investors, and new businesses are emerging on Springwood Avenue, in the southwest. In March, Boston Way Village, an affordable-housing complex with 104 units, became the first major residential development to open in the area in half a century.

The boundary between east and west will soften with plans to trim the four intimidating traffic lanes on Main Street, which parallels Memorial Drive, to two, with a turning lane in between and space for cyclists.

“Demand is really off the charts” for both sale and rental properties, said Mary McAllister, a broker with Diane Turton, Realtors, in Asbury Park. She noted a particular increase in empty-nesters drawn to Asbury’s walkable streets and many recreations.

The median sale price of homes between Jan. 25 and April 24 was $358,500, according to Trulia. This figure, based on 30 transactions, represented a year-over-year increase of 10 percent.


400 DEAL LAKE DRIVE, UNIT 3G | A one-bedroom, one-bathroom condo in the Santander, a 1920s building in northeast Asbury Park, listed for $200,000, with a monthly $255 association fee. 973-985-5032CreditJames Estrin/The New York Times

The median rent as of April 19 was $5,000, reflecting seasonal demand. Last year, the number dipped to around $2,000 in late fall and winter.

As of May 10, there were 71 residential listings on the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New Jersey website, pulled from multiple sources. The most expensive was a penthouse at Asbury Ocean Club, with four bedrooms, four full bathrooms, two half-bathrooms and three garage parking spaces; it was listed for $5.98 million, with a monthly association fee of $4,667. The least expensive was a 420-square-foot studio at the Santander, a 1920s Mediterranean-style condominium two blocks from the beach; it was listed for $200,000, with a monthly association fee of $255.

Even in late April, Asbury Park was open for business, its rough edges buffed by all kinds of cool. Tourists shopped the boardwalk, and dogs tore along the beach. Coney Waffle served bodacious, two-foot-high towers of ice cream, cookies, spun sugar and candy (you can check it out on Instagram).

“We’re LGBT friendly,” Tara Elliott, the owner of Bettie’s Bombshells, a boutique with retro Hollywood glamour clothes, announced almost by way of a greeting. Best of all, there were plenty of parking spaces.

Asbury Park School District is one of 31 SDA, or state-funded, New Jersey school districts. It encompasses three elementary schools (prekindergarten through fifth grade), one middle school (sixth through eighth grade) and one high school (ninth through 12th grade). In the 2017-18 school year, the total enrollment was about 2,000 students.


Even on a cool day in April, the boardwalk had plenty of foot traffic.CreditJames Estrin/The New York Times

On 2017-18 state tests, 17 percent of elementary school students met standards in English, compared to 43 percent statewide; 13 percent of middle school students met standards in English, versus 38 percent statewide. No public information was available on math scores.

The average 2017-18 SAT scores by students at Asbury Park High School were 429 in reading and writing and 423 math, versus 530 and 526 statewide, resulting in a ranking of 303 out of 307 high schools in New Jersey.

Parochial schools include Our Lady of Mount Carmel School, which enrolls about 200 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, and Hillel Yeshiva High School, which enrolls about 230 students in ninth through 12th grade.

Travel on New Jersey Transit’s North Jersey Coast Line to Pennsylvania Station in New York City takes from 97 to 121 minutes at rush hour, usually with a transfer at Long Branch, N.J. The one-way fair is $16.25; a monthly pass is $463.


The lobby cafe at the Asbury Park Hotel reflects a new wave of luxury properties. Built in a former Salvation Army boarding house, the hotel is a short distance from the beach and has a swimming pool and a rooftop bar.CreditJames Estrin/The New York Times

James A. Bradley, a New York City businessman, founded Asbury Park in 1871 on 500 acres of shoreline he bought with a fortune made from manufacturing brushes. He later became the city’s mayor. Having converted to Methodism, he named Asbury Park after Francis Asbury, a bishop who was a founder of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States.

Recent historical accounts of Bradley’s segregationist policies have led some community members to demand that his statue in front of the Asbury Park Convention Hall be taken down.

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Published at Wed, 15 May 2019 14:46:47 +0000